HC Deb 24 February 1998 vol 307 cc187-8W
Ms Osborne

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what was the outcome of discussions with the fishing industry on arrangements to implement United Kingdom obligations under MAGP IV, with particular reference to the introduction of effort controls in the pelagic and beam trawl segments; and if he will make a statement. [31038]

Mr. Morley

As I explained to the House on 17 December 1997,Official Report, columns 227–29, the progress made during negotiations with the European Commission on the UK's detailed plans for implementing MAGP IV, together with the results of the 1997 Decommissioning Scheme, mean that, provided fishing effort in other fleet segments does not increase, immediate further action in 1998 can be limited to the introduction of effort controls in the pelagic and beam trawl segments.

I also explained that the Government's preference was for such controls to be managed by the industry itself and that detailed discussions with the fishermen concerned would be held without delay. As a result of those meetings, it has been possible for the fishing effort available in 1998 to be allocated between the various Producer Organisations (POs) or groups of fishermen concerned. The allocations are, however, provisional and will need to be reviewed as definitive information about activity in 1997 becomes available.

All POs and groups have been invited to manage their uptake of effort to stay within these allocations on whatever basis they and their members consider appropriate within their constitutions. The Government are not seeking to impose any particular formula for this and are not making any allocations of effort to individual vessels. POs and groups will therefore have the flexibility to respond to local circumstances and, within their allocations, to take account of any special factors affecting particular members. I would expect them to do this in a fair and responsible way in accordance with their rules. These arrangements are expected to cover virtually all vessels definitively assigned to both segments this year. There may, however, be a few vessels which remain outside PO or other membership, for which a separate non-sector effort allocation will operate.

Where POs or groups remain within their effort allocations no further action by Government will be needed. But in cases where monitoring shows risks that allocations will be exceeded, POs or groups will be warned and fishing by their members suspended, through the licensing mechanism, if no appropriate response is made.

Guidance on the arrangements for measuring and monitoring fishing effort is being issued to all fishermen concerned and copies will be placed in the Library of the House shortly, together with details of the provisional effort allocations.

In addition to the above, certain limited changes are being introduced for distant water vessels, which were the subject of a separate consultation exercise with those concerned. These are designed to reflect the possibility of effort outside EU waters being varied in line with fishing opportunities, as provided for in Article 8 of Council Decision 97/413/EC. But any such requests need also to be cleared with the European Commission and will be subject to examination on a case by case basis.

All the above changes are without prejudice to the further consultations on the operation of the licensing system, which I announced on 17 December, and to the review of the current moratorium on the issue of distant water licences, which will be taking place shortly.

The Government recognise that the introduction of these effort management measures represents a new development in fisheries policy. We are alive to the concerns of the industry and will be seeking to ensure that the details of implementation are as practically devised as possible. The arrangements will be kept under review and, in particular, we shall want to consider the possible need for changes at the time of the Commission's interim review of MAGP IV in the first quarter of 1999.

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